Mercoledi Musicale

Unfortunately it appears that the video extract I posted cannot be viewed in certain areas.  I’ve been searching for other extracts from the operetta and do apologize.  I have yet to decide whither it would be best to just take it down as the point was to introduce some lovely music.

Just in time for Christmas last year Opéra National de Lyon staged a wondrous revival of Jacques Offenbach’s satirical opéra-bouffe-féerie Le Roi Carotte (King Carrot).  It became the surprise hit of the opera season in France and was awarded the prize as “Best Rediscovered Work” at the International Opera Awards 2016.  It was televised over the holiday season in Europe and scored high with an even wider audience.

A poster by Henri Meyer from an 1891 production of Sardou and Offenbach’s opéra-bouffée-feerie.

The work premiered at Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris in January of 1872 (it had been delayed by the Franco-Prussian War) and proved a popular success.  It had an initial run of 192 performances and pulled in 3,000 francs in daily profits.  However with four acts, twenty-two scenes, fifteen hundred costumes and a cast of several hundred it was an expensive show to run and had little chance of entering the standard repertoire.  However Offenbach and Victorien Sardou (Sarah Bernhardt’s playwright of choice) did publish a three-act version which was seen  in London and Vienna within a year or two of its Paris premiere.  The second version was revived several times in Paris but then seems to have disappeared.  According to a report in the New York Times in November of 1873 when it was produced for the first time at the new Grand Opera House in Manhattan ‘the music is to be given with additions and alterations made for this country by Offenbach himself.  Sardou has likewise composed a special “apotheosis” to end the spectacle …’  If a later report in the same newspaper is credible the scenery and costumes were much appreciated, Offenbach and Sardou’s efforts to please their New York audiences less so.

For the Lyon production conductor Victor Aviat and director Laurent Pelly went with the revised version with a successful (and funny) updating by Agathe Mélinand – though it appears that little updating was really required as much of Sardou’s satire seemed very, very current.

In the tradition of opéra-bouffe-féerie magic and magicians are involved in this story of a kingdom who’s monarch,  Fridolin XXIV, has bankrupt his country and is planning to wed a foreign princess for money.  As the courtship progresses a strange figure and his entourage appear:  King Carotte.  Carrot plans to subjugate the Kingdom to his greedy will.  Coloquinte, an evil fairy  has aroused him from his underground home and places an enchantment on the court and people of the kingdom.  No matter what stupid or rude thing Carotte does they blame Fridolin.  Carotte drinks and Fridolin appears drunk, Carrot sneezes and the King goes into spasms.  He picks his nose and the court turns on the Fridolin in disgust.  The interloper is boorish and makes outlandish statements and the King shoulders the blame.  Soon the court and populace have turned their back on Fridolin and proclaim Carotte as their new ruler.  They are blind to his ignorance and lies and no one can see the dangers that they soon will be facing in their Kingdom as they willingly succumb to the rule of a tyrant.

Costume for Le Roi Carotte – Draner – 1872

In the remaining acts Fridolin, his good sorcerer, and a few faithful friends attempt to find a way to oust the usurper and regain the kingdom.  At one point they are transported to Pompeii with instructions to find a magic ring.

They arrive at the the ruins of the once grand metropolis and they are struck by the sombreness of the “dead city” and in a glorious quartet express their fear, wonderment and even sadness of what has happened there.  If ever there was proof needed that Offenbach composed something more than a barcarole or a can-can this lovely piece should serve the purpose.  Here it is performed by Chloé Briot, Julie Boulianne, Yann Beuron and Jean-Sébastien Bou conducted by Victor Aviat.

The city is reanimated for them by magic and they escape with the ring just as Vesuvius begins to rock and roll.  Several attempts to overthrow Carotte fail until finally the populace tires of rising prices and the injustices of King Carotte and his band of thugs.  Realizing that they have been tricked and lied to the citizens start an uprising and restore Fridolin to his throne.  As I said Mélinand had to do very little updating to hit the satirical mark.

Every delightful moment of the Lyon production is available (in French only I’m afraid) on YouTube by left clicking:  Le Roi Carotte d’Offenbach à l’Opéra de Lyon.

On this day in 1836:  the Crystal Palace in London is destroyed by fire.

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